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A new facelift for historic Downtown Tampa landmark




Downtown Tampa’s only “elaborate movie palace” is undergoing a much-anticipated upgrade: wider, cushier seats and a more modern concessions stand for attendees to enjoy, as well as significant infrastructural improvements to protect the 1926 building from extreme weather.

The $6 million Phase 1 scope of work at Tampa Theatre addresses both the integrity of the building and the superior audience experience; seating has long been a gripe of even the venue’s biggest fans. The 1970s-era lobby concession counter is inefficient for rapid service and out of step with the original Mediterranean design. Both will be addressed with work starting today.

Authenticity is key in this process, and so even the new paint will be forensically matched to what was used 91 years ago.

While the mainstream model for cinema is changing thanks to streaming services and dinner-bar-theater hybrids, the Tampa Theatre’s charm is its ambiance and urban setting, surrounded by bars, restaurants and modern residential highrises.

Attendees enjoy a regular lineup of unique independent films and documentaries, seasonal classics (horror around Halloween, holiday from now until the new year -- to be shown outside during Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park, and participation in film festivals like TIGLFF and GIFF.

Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco recalled a friend telling him, ahead of this morning’s media briefing: “I proposed to my wife there!”

When you attend a movie screening at The Tampa Theatre, you get one of the rare glimpses into prewar life in Tampa -- a distant past of gilded opulence. A time when streetcars ran up and down Franklin Street and ushers showed dressed-up moviegoers to their assigned seats before a film.

In 1976, the Tampa Theatre was saved from demolition through a coalition of impassioned community and civic leaders, including former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, Sr. In 1978, it was selected to be part of the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for federal preservation tax credits and incentives.

Today, individual donations, sponsorships and partnerships, and philanthropic businesses support its continued operation and improvement. This morning, realty brokerage Smith & Associates’ CEO Bob Glaser presented Tampa Theatre CEO John Bell with a check for $250,000, generosity that will help speed the restoration work.

So where are all those old seats going? Head to Schiller’s Architectural and Design Salvage in North Hyde Park to purchase a piece of the theatre’s history.

Renovation work will wrap up by the end of December in time for a film screening on the 22nd and New Years Eve party to ring in 2018! Exact date of completion is T-B-A.

Read more articles by Alex English.

Alex English is a Tampa native who has lived in Sarasota, Seattle, New York, Bordeaux and Milan. He is passionate about urban development, retail and style, and publishes Remarqed, a personal blog on those subjects.
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